President’s Letter

children in class

July 2020

Dear Colleagues and Visitors,

One year ago I posted the message below, reflecting on themes of continuity and adaptation in the Foundation’s work. Now I write at a moment of extraordinary disruption, a time when adaptation is everything. We at Cowell recognize that our grantee communities are grappling with unprecedented challenges.  We are adapting our support by:

  • Modifying grants to release restrictions, lighten requirements and provide flexibility
  • Proactively awarding emergency funds for relief in grantee communities
  • Making referrals to sources of technical support, human connection, and self-care

A global pandemic reminds us of our common humanity and our shared responsibility for each other’s well-being. But suffering is unevenly distributed in this crisis, in ways that are stark and appallingly predictable. Black, Latinx, immigrant and indigenous people are bearing a disproportionate share of the essential work, the illness, and the economic trauma. 

Cowell’s mission is to provide resources of opportunity for families and youth in northern and central California, to strengthen the communities in which they live, learn and lead. To do so, we know we must name and address the reasons why those communities, and those families, experience poverty and distress. Why are resources lacking? Why are opportunities unequal? The reasons include systems of injustice rooted in racism. We are not exempt.

For several years, our Board and staff have planned 2020 as a year of reflection and inquiry leading toward an update of the strategic plan that has shaped our philanthropy for the past 12 years. Our process calls for gathering insight and guidance from our grantees and others in the diverse communities where we provide funding. In this crisis, we are resolved to align our philanthropy with their leadership, our resources with their needs. Beyond this crisis – dimly as we may yet see – we are determined to play our part in creating a better, more equitable future. Until we can look ahead with clarity, we will carry on in solidarity and hope.

July 2019

For nearly 20 years we at Cowell have set a steady course in our philanthropy, guided by the principles of place-based grantmaking that are described here on the Foundation’s website. In that time, our program staff has visited nearly 70 communities across northern and central California, and our Board of Directors has awarded grants in more than 40 places: city neighborhoods and unincorporated areas, small towns and dispersed counties. We continue to seek opportunities to make complementary grants to organizations that serve essentially the same families, and, in time, to develop local resources and improve opportunities for community residents – especially children and youth.

In some ways, the passing years have scarcely affected our mission. Now as always, the sources of poverty run deep; nonetheless, our region is anchored by communities where geography, memory and aspiration combine to create a profound sense of place. Many of our grantee communities are navigating generational waves of change, such as the transition from work based on resource extraction to an economy that mixes sectors and industries. Because the Foundation’s assets derived originally from extractive enterprises, it has always seemed apt for Cowell to invest in communities that share in that legacy.

In other ways, however, our times and our changing environment call for adaptations. For example, having made 10 emergency grants since 2017 to aid in wildfire relief and recovery in Napa, Sonoma, Shasta, Trinity and Butte Counties, the Foundation, for the first time, included disaster relief as a category in our 2019 grants program budget. In the shattering aftermath of the November 2018 Camp Fire, our website home page – which since 2015 has featured an image of Paradise Community Village, an affordable development built with Cowell support – was transformed into a tribute and memorial. We hope the lasting image of Cowell Lane and Community Way will honor both the memory and the fortitude of those who lost their homes on Paradise Ridge.

Yet, we know commemoration is not a strategy for the future. In June 2019, Cowell ventured to new territory in our place-based philanthropy by awarding a multi-year grant to launch the Center for Learning and Resilience, a project championed by the Butte County Office of Education. While responding to the needs of families in and near Chico, including many who were displaced from Paradise, the Center is envisioned as a lighthouse for family-strengthening organizations throughout the North State region. Over the years, Cowell invested in several small towns within the vast, multi-county region; now, looking at the North State as one community of distant neighbors, we’re adapting our strategy to support extended and collective efforts across the region.

As we continue our journey of response and reflection, continuity and change, we’re grateful to you, our colleagues in service, and especially to our grantees whose work gives us purpose and inspiration.





Ann Alpers